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Texas math standards seek to exceed national ones

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas' top education official said Thursday that the state should hammer out new K-12 math curriculum standards that are better than national requirements adopted almost everywhere in the country, or delay approving anything until it can.

Textbook publishers are waiting for final approval by the State Board of Education so they can begin producing classroom materials. But Education Commissioner Robert Scott said making the final product better than national "common core" math standards is more important than meeting deadlines.

"We're going to fight and we're going to complain and we're going to have amendments and we're going to have dialogue," Scott told the board. "If you can't walk out of here tomorrow with math standards that are better than the common core, delay. Come back in May and finish then."

The board gave preliminary approval to new, 10-year requirements in January that are up for final passage by its 15 members Friday. The proposed requirements are based on the math tested in previous Texas standardized tests, as well as past curriculums in California, Massachusetts and Minnesota, and Singapore.

The requirements are not based on the Common Core State Standards Initiative coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Texas is one of just five states that haven't adopted those standards, which were developed by teachers, school administrators, and experts with the intent of proving a consistent benchmark for preparing students for college and the workforce.

Sensitive to complaints Texas' proposed standards may not be strenuous enough or include all subject areas they should, state board members have made a series of modifications and amendments to the would-be math curriculum and will continue to do so until the final vote. If members can't finish that work in time, they could call a special meeting next month to complete the job.

Scott urged the board Thursday to "do your best in the next 24 hours to complete this process" but also noted, "we had a last minute barrage of concerns raised, and we will do our best to address them."

Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, responded by saying, "the common core is an unnecessary distraction."

"That really should not be the overriding focus. For me, it's about the students and the teachers and their abilities and them having the necessary resources," said Knight, alluding to $5.4 billion in cuts to public education approved last summer by the state Legislature.

The Texas Association of Business, one of the most-influential organizations of its kind in the state, has opposed the new math curriculum standards as not strict enough — saying they ultimately will hurt the competiveness of future Texas workforces. The group also says the requirements try to cover so many areas that they practically are incoherent at times, and don't place enough focus on basics like algebra.

Some education groups have supported the standards as a major step forward. But others worry students are being asked to do too much, tackling advanced math at young ages.

National curriculum standards aside, the proposed Texas curriculums also block their implementation unless the state Legislature provides funding for books to help students cope with tougher math requirements — an attempt by the board of education to hold lawmakers' feet to the fire on funding.